A Tea Addict's Journal

Entries from September 2010

Bad tea

September 29, 2010 · 3 Comments

Drinking bad teas is a very, very unsatisfying experience.  Now there are a few different ways of “bad” that I can think of.

1) Plain bad — it’s insipid, boring, bland, just not very good tea

2) Badly processed/stored — usually with this kind of thing you can pinpoint something wrong with it, either in the processing or the storage, or both.  Poorly stored puerh (too dry or too wet) can fall into this category.  Teas that are made with wrong or bad processing methods can also fall into this category.

3) Spoiled — stuff is growing, or green tea has turned yellow.  Things like that

4) Bad value — this is usually a tea that is on the margins, but the price did it in.  An ok tea at $10/lb might be perfectly fine, but if it’s $100/lb, or, for example, a lao chatou selling for an egregious $150CDN, then it can be downright criminal.

Usually with 3, you can spot it without drinking it.  Even 2 is sometimes obvious.  1 is harder to tell — the tea can often look quite ok, but a few cups in, I would want to bail on the tea.  I want to stop, and start again with something I know is good, something I like, something that will make me feel like it’s worthwhile to drink.  Most of the time, bad tea is not a problem that I have, but sometimes when I sample, it happens.  Today’s one of those days, and the tea, unfortunately, falls into the 1 category.

I tried the YSLLC 2010 Yiwu.  Now, knowing the price of good raw materials from Yiwu this year, I know this price of $16 for a cake is really in the “too good to be real” category.  But then, since YSLLC probably cuts out quite a few middlemen, I figured it’s worth giving it a shot.

Unlike the Gedeng, which is fine, the Yiwu is not anything I’d recognize as Yiwu at all.  The tea has signs of poor processing, but also doesn’t seem to be from the Yiwu region — it certainly doesn’t taste like anything I’d recognize from Mahei, or at least anything decent coming from Mahei.  What I find is a rather odd tasting tea with some strange flavours, and a fair amount of smoke.  Not impressed.

Then again, I do, sometimes, change my mind, so might give this another go some other time, to see if my initial impressions are right.  But as it is, there are better bets than this tea.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts · Teas
Tagged: ,

Yunnan Sourcing Gedeng 2010

September 28, 2010 · Leave a Comment

As I mentioned in my last post, I bought a bunch of samples from YSLLC recently, with the intention of trying out some of the lesser known cakes, some of which are of the YSLLC label.  The first I tried among these is the Gedeng, which is one of the six famous tea mountains in Yunnan, but one which has almost no tea trees left because they were decimated over the years (mostly growing rubber trees now).  Gedeng, like some other mountains (such as Youle) have generally small leaf tress.  This is in contrast with Yiwu and Manzhuan, for example, which have large leaf trees.  The teas behave somewhat differently because of that.

Initial impressions of this tea is that it’s quite decent.  It’s got some strength, but not overly so, and lasts a while.  It seems to be processed decently, and the price is not terrible.  However, I find myself not used to drinking fresh puerh anymore.  I much prefer the taste of something a little older, preferably stored in somewhere desirable.

Tomorrow maybe I’ll give the Yiwu a spin.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

The value of samples

September 21, 2010 · 2 Comments

I just got a shipment from Yunnan Sourcing, full of samples and a cake.  I remember a long time ago, I advocated that a newcomer to puerh should sample lots — it’ll eventually get you to where you want to go, wherever that may be.  I think I still stand by that, with a caveat – even after you drink lots of samples, you may or may not know more about teas.  You really have to think about what you’re drinking to learn something from them.  Sampling, I think, is useful for two purposes:

1) To determine whether or buy something or not.  This one’s pretty obvious.  It is also always useful.

2) To broaden your sense of taste.  This is why I buy most of my samples.

A lot of the samples I bought this time are from YSLLC itself — the cakes that Scott pressed in the past two or three years of various mountains.  First of all, I’ve never tried any of his pressing, so I’m curious to see what they are like.  I also bought a cake of Bulang from a no-name factory (in fact, the paper is white).  I find that these are often more interesting than big factory stuff.  When I get a cake of Shuangjiang Mengku Ronshi tea, for example, or a cake from Menghai factory, you more or less have an idea what it’s going to be like, how it’s going to be processed, and roughly how it’s going to go down.  There are usually very few surprises, and what surprises there are, they are often because the tea was stored strangely, or fake.  With the smaller factory stuff, however, that is not true.  You often get a lot of teas that are pretty strange, or interestingly processed.  They could be good or they could be bad, but they are almost always a learning experience.

So for today’s tea, which is the said Bulang, I brewed it in my usual pot.  I find it to be quite green, still, even though it’s 2006.  I’m sure Kunming storage has something to do with that.  It does have a few years in that the taste is starting to turn, ever so slightly, but it is a long way from mature.  I can guess that it was, when made, quite a green affair, and pretty bitter.  What is really interesting for me though, is that it is very different from what I normally drink these days.  The first taste of the tea brought me back to when I was in Beijing in 2006 and tasting my way through hundreds of cakes.  I noticed that these days, my standard fare is usually something pre 2007, or aged, or aged oolong, or wuyi.  There just isn’t room for some of these younger drain cleaners.  I should probably make a little room for them and to evaluate how the newer crops of tea are doing.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
Tagged: ,

What it is…..

September 14, 2010 · 2 Comments

is the Mengku Yuanyexiang (YYX), thick paper, I believe.  A friend of mine gave me half a cake, which by today’s price is probably worth a few million.   YYX leaves on the left, cheap, cheap Chinatown cooked puerh on the right.

The reason I thought it was interesting was because within that tea, you can taste, very distinctly, the wet storage that went on.  It has that musty smell and taste that’s only attainable through that kind of storage.  Some people hate it, but others think that true puerh should only taste like that.

The difference between it and the thin paper, supposedly dry stored (in actuality less-wet stored), is not all that great.  I find the thin paper, which I tried multiple times and I own a few of, to be harsher.  It’s not the best tea — it’s merely good.

The problem with this kind of tea is that it’s very much a “brand name” tea.  It’s famous because of various types of promotional things that have been done to it — magazines, word of mouth, etc.  Hou De sold out both pretty much the instant he put them up.  It’s really quite amazing.  The fact is though that teas like this are not that great — you can probably find, after some searching, some tea on taobao that costs only a fraction but taste just as good.

However, what’s missing is the “celebrity” factor.  When you drink the YYX you know it’s good — because so and so expert said so.  When you drink this other stuff that costs only a fraction, you don’t know that it’s good…. because, well, nobody told you that.  What’s in the price is that stamp of approval.  As we all know, such stamps of approval tend to be abused, because there’s real money to be made there.

That’s why I normally don’t go for teas like this, and only drink things that I myself find pleasing.  I also tend not to talk about them all that much, male urine aside.  I know what I like, which may not be what you like.  What’s important is developing your own sense of what you find to be good taste, rather than to follow what other teach you to be great.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas
Tagged: ,

What tea is this?

September 12, 2010 · 6 Comments

What’s in this cup?

Hint: Something purchasable at one point but is no longer available.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Maliandao Geography – an update

September 10, 2010 · 7 Comments

A long time ago, I posted something about Maliandao Geography, mostly to help others going to Beijing to navigate themselves around the street where they sell all things tea.  After this recent trip, I noticed that the old map needs a little update.

So, what changed?

Well, first of all, the Beijing Pu’er Chadu (black on the old map) is no more.  It’s dead, gone, turned into something unrecognizable.  Those stores all left, I guess, to go somewhere else.

Instead, we have two shiny new tea malls that are now BEFORE the all important Carrefour (purple and orange).  Now, what I said about the Carrefour still stands — anything that shows up before the Carrefour is for tourist only, and the serious tea buyer should not bother with them, because they are more expensive and so you will probably not find your best prices there.  Keep walking.

There are also two newer (although not new — newer only relative to my last post) places that sell tea that are slightly more out of the way.  Brown is Tianfuyuan tea mall, which you can only get to if you walk through the Beijing Tea Corporation mall (or through a nondescript alley with shops).  That’s where Xiaomei, my friend, has her shop.  It’s now a little shabby, and honestly, I thought she should move, but then, she seems to be doing all right, so I’m sure there’s business there still.

The other place that is newer is the Beijing tea trading center, coloured pink here.  I walked by, walked around, and didn’t see much that I like.  However, I didn’t see much that I liked anywhere in Beijing this time, so that’s really not saying much.

I went on a rainy day, and it was not very crowded at all – in fact, it was positively dead.  At Chayuan, only about half the shops were actually open.  I was told that on sunny days business is much better, and that I went on a bad day.

So that’s that — an update to Maliandao.  Just remember — walk past the Carrefour.  It’ll pay off.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,

Jiangcheng “1997” puerh

September 7, 2010 · Leave a Comment

I’ve been buying some random teas on Taobao, just to try them out, hopefully hitting a home run.  Sometimes, they’re base hits.  Other times, they’re strikeouts.  This one’s probably a bunt.

I haven’t been posting many pictures, because my schedule usually means I drink tea late in the afternoon.  Living in this part of the world, it means it’s already quite dark outside.  Coupled with an older house that has tiny windows facing anything but west (rather, the west is blocked by a mass of trees) my house is exceptionally dark.  Therefore, it’s been hard taking pictures, and what you see in pictures tend to be somewhat doctored.

This thing is really a bit of a gamble.  Will of teadrunk and I decided to buy one cake each and to test it out, since he’s tried a similar cake that turned out to be ok.  I’ve seen this one around enough times to want to give it a shot.  The cake itself, as you may be able to discern from the pictures, is wet stored, although not terribly so.  There’s that telltale smell, and the slight white frosting.  I don’t think it’s anywhere near the 1997 age claimed by the seller — 2003/4, maybe.

The tea, I think, is quite drinkable.  It has some off flavours, owing to its storage condition, but those get washed away in the first few infusions.  What you have left is a slightly wet stored, 7 years old puerh that is slightly acidic and has some bite.  What the problem is, and it is a problem, is that it is not supposed to be that way — it should be a decent, 13 years old tea, which it manifestly is not.  If I want something of this kind of age and taste, I have far better options, not least the male urine cake.  Why buy this, which is more expensive, when there are better teas?

So, thumbs down on the price/quality ratio.  Boo.

Categories: Old Xanga posts · Teas

Too much tea

September 5, 2010 · 4 Comments

A universal problem among my tea friends, if it’s a problem at all, is the issue of having too much tea.  Everyone I know has a lot of tea — varying from a few kilos of ready supply, to having half a ton of tea sitting at home (BBB, I’m looking in your general direction).  Now, this is not terribly surprising in and of itself, since we tend to buy teas we like, and we almost always tend to buy tea in larger quantities than we can realistically consume.  I’ve done the math before, and if I drink daily, by my normal drinking parameters, then I would only drink about 1.5 tongs of tea a year, if even.  That’s about 4-5kg of tea a year, max.  Not all that much at all.

A less obvious problem though, at least in my case, is that sometimes even though I have lots of tea (and yes, I have lots of tea) it doesn’t actually mean I want to drink them.  So sometimes, on certain days, I might have the peculiar problem of having a lot of tea, yet nothing to drink.

There are really three reasons for this, and generally speaking they are mutually exclusive

1) I don’t want to drink X yet — this usually applies to puerh or oolongs that are meant for aging.  If I only have a few bings of a tea, then I might not want to consume it all now, hoping that I can consume them later at a better stage

2) I don’t want to drink X because it’s too precious — this applies to a lot of things, varying from rare oddities that friends have given me in the past, tea with particular memories, or, in some cases, just really expensive stuff like longjing, which, in my case at least, invariably go bad before I actually get around to drinking them.  Two years old aged longjing aren’t so good.

3) I don’t want to drink X because it’s terrible — this happens more than you think, and sometimes can be masked with reason 1 or 2 (more often than not, 1).

The end result of all this is that oftentimes teas are actually consumed very slowly, and some things don’t move at all for years and years.  Today I just finished a bag of aged shuixian I bought from Beijing about four years ago.  When I bought it it was already aged four or five years, so this is really now an eight to ten years old tea.  I packed my pot with what’s left of it, and am drinking it right now — giving me a comfortable caffeine buzz and a nice, full mouthfeel, despite its humble origins.  It’s got the beginning of an aged tea feel — not quite the sweet taste you might find in some aged shuixian yet, but it’s getting there.

I also opened a “new” bag of roasted Taiwanese oolong a few days ago, which I also bought from Beijing in 2006.  That was one of my first purchases from Beijing when I arrived, and has been sitting around ever since.  It was vacuum packed when I bought it, but the vacuum lost its seal a few years ago, and has been that way ever since.

Trying the tea — very pleased, aged a little, lost all the roasty/charcoal flavour, but retaining the spiciness.  Why didn’t I open this sooner?

This gets me back to my original point though — it’s easy to forget some of the old oddities you have stored up, and once consumed, they’re gone forever.  That makes me not want to drink some of these things, because they are little pieces of memory.  However, I learned my lesson — I now buy in bulk when I meet a tea that I like.  One or two kilos is a small purchase, a few kilos is a larger one.  That is the only remedy to “I don’t want to drink this now”

Which, of course, leads to even more tea.

Categories: Information · Old Xanga posts
Tagged: ,